Faced with rental housing crisis, Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie moves to restrict Airbnbs

Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie plans to restrict short-term rentals like Airbnbs to the Plaza Saint-Hubert shopping district, in an effort to free up apartments for tenants looking for long-term leases.

Borough cracks down on hundreds of property owners who are turning apartments into hotels

Montreal apartments are increasingly hard to come by as the vacancy rate has hit a 15-year low. One borough is looking to do something about it by limiting where Airbnbs can operate. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie plans to restrict short-term rentals like Airbnbs to the Plaza Saint-Hubert shopping district, in an effort to free up apartments for tenants looking for long-term leases as Montreal faces its worst rental housing crisis in 15 years.

Borough Mayor François Croteau estimates that roughly one per cent of all rental housing stock in La-Petite-Patrie alone is going to short-term renters rather than Montrealers who need a place to live.

"For us, it's a huge problem that we have to fight against," said Croteau.

Barring any serious opposition from the community, the borough's new regulation should be in effect by April — prohibiting people from putting their secondary residences on the short-term rental market unless it is in specific zones along Saint-Hubert Street.

"We're hoping that the effect is going to be very fast and help some citizens find a new apartment," Croteau said.

He'd like to see a collective effort, with other boroughs passing similar rules, because Montreal, in accordance with its charter, can't enact a citywide zoning regulation.

In January 2018, the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough also delineated the zones in which regular Airbnb listings are permitted — the length of Saint-Laurent and Saint-Denis streets. In downtown Montreal, the Ville-Marie borough only issues permits for properties bordering Ste-Catherine Street between Saint-Mathieu and Atateken streets.

"We can talk together. Manage it together," said Croteau. "I think we are going to have a big, big impact on the field for the benefit of the citizens of Montreal."

More than 1,400 listings on Airbnb

If every property owner in Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie were to abide by the proposed rule, hundreds of apartments could, in theory, become available for rent just in time for moving season.

Over the past five years, just 41 "hotel-apartments" have obtained legal authorization certificates in the borough, according to a Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie borough spokesperson.

However, there are more than 1,400 listings on Airbnb in the borough that are described as "entire homes or apartments," according to Inside Airbnb, a non-profit initiative that tracks and analyzes public Airbnb listings and data. 

The data does not show if the listings are primary or secondary residences.

Dozens of Airbnb listings can be found around Saint-Hubert Street, between Villeray Street and Rosemont Boulevard.

According to Inside Airbnb, there is a heavy concentration of units listed in La-Petite-Patrie. There are fewer listed in Rosemont, the eastern sector of the borough. (Inside Airbnb)

The new regulation targets those who have essentially turned scarce rental housing stock into a hotel-like business.

People who are operating a secondary residence as a hotel-apartment will still be able to do so in certain zones along the Plaza St-Hubert commercial strip, but everywhere else people will only be able to rent their primary residence for up to 31 consecutive days, and not on a regular basis.

That means the hundreds of people who rent out a single room in their apartment or subsidize their mortgages by renting out their place occasionally won't  be affected.

But will new rule be enforced?

Martin Blanchard, a community organizer with the Petite-Patrie Housing Committee, said he is pleased with the borough's newest effort to put rental housing back on the market in a time when the city's vacancy rate is 1.5 per cent.

"There are many apartment units now out of the market because these apartments are being rented year-long on Airbnb," he said. "What this bylaw will do is put back these apartment units on the rental market where they should be."

However, he worries there won't be enough resources to enforce the regulation. Municipal housing inspectors are focused on checking on tenants' living conditions, he said.

Martin Blanchard, a community organizer with the Petite-Patrie Housing Committee, says the borough is on the right track, but worries the new rule won't be enforced. (Matt D'Amours/CBC)

As it stands, "80 per cent of Airbnb listings are illegal" under Quebec's current laws, Blanchard said, "and they are not being fined." 

He hopes the province's new restrictions, which also come into effect this spring, will help.

Quebecers who rent their homes on a short-term basis will be required to obtain a registration number with the province and then display that number on their ads. Blanchard said inspectors will then be able to track down those who are listing their properties without claiming the revenue simply by combing through Airbnb listings.

Whether there will be enough inspectors and resources to do that remains to be seen, Blanchard said. Revenu Québec only has about 30 inspectors for the whole province, he said.

As for the mayor of Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie, Croteau is calling on all Quebec residents to let the Legault government know that they are fed up with those who evade provincial and municipal laws — potentially dodging taxes and ignoring zoning regulations by listing their properties on sites like Airbnb and not claiming the income.

"For us, it's important to say to citizens that they have to denounce the fact that people continue to rent their apartment illegally," he said.

The borough will be publishing information on its website so residents can know where to report suspected Airbnbs that don't comply with the rules, said Croteau.

"Of course, we are going to make the follow-up with the government to make sure they enforce the law in our territory."

with files from CBC's Lauren McCallum